Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > 2007

SD - dog blows off hunter's arm

By Jonnie Taté Finn
[email protected]

BRANDON - Russell Stough feels constant pain in his right arm. Sometimes it's like razor blades have been dragged over his fingers. Other times it's as though his hand is bent backward or that it's swollen to 20 times its normal size and about to explode.

The thing is, most of his arm isn't there. It stops just above where an elbow should be.

"They call it phantom pain, where the brain thinks the arm is still there," said Stough, 33, whose right arm was amputated last month after a freak hunting accident. "The pain is so severe. Sometimes I feel the exact pain as I did on that day."

As Stough works to recover, friends, family and area businesses are stepping up to help with medical bills. They will host a benefit at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Brandon Golf Course to help the family move forward.

Goose hunting trip gone terribly wrong

On Dec. 14, Stough of Brandon was hunting geese on private land northwest of Pierre with clients and associates as part of an annual trip with his employer, Midwest Truck Insurance of Brandon.

Though Stough refused to say more about the incident, citing his emotional frailty, it is described in an official report from the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.

According to the report and Stanley County Conservation Officer Josh Carr, Stough ran out of shotgun shells while hunting and went to his hunting partner for more. His partner was retrieving a goose at the time, and as Stough approached, a flock of geese flew overhead. As Stough and the other hunter crouched down to hide from the geese, the other hunter laid down his gun, a semiautomatic 12-gauge shotgun.

Then a dog the two were hunting with stepped on the trigger, and the gun went off less than six inches away from Stough. The blast hit him just below the elbow of his right arm, according to the report.

Because Stough was about a half-mile from the rest of the hunting party, he and his hunting partner had to walk to meet them. The group then began the 18-mile trip to Pierre. An ambulance met Stough along the route and transported him to St. Mary's Healthcare Center in Pierre.

Stough picked up the story from there.

"It was too much of a trauma for them to handle, so they called hospitals in Minneapolis, Rochester, Sioux Falls and Denver," Stough said. "Finally, the (University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha) accepted me. I flew out of Pierre at 9:30 (p.m.)

"I remember all of it. I was conscious the whole time. I even remember the ambulance workers' names. It's what kept me going. I had to stay focused, because I knew I was losing a lot of blood," he said.

"It was 10:50 (p.m.) when I got to Omaha. And it was a little after 2 (a.m.) when I went into surgery."

The surgery lasted more than seven hours.

Doctors couldn't save the arm, so it was amputated above the elbow. Stough was in the hospital for a week before he came home on Dec. 21. An infection brought Stough back to Omaha two days after Christmas, and since then, he's gone back several times for checkups and pain management.

Loss of limb prompts difficult emotions
Eric Watson, an orthopedic surgeon at the Orthopedic Institute in Sioux Falls, performs two or three amputations a month. Watson is not Stough's doctor. Although he works primarily with lower extremities, such as feet and ankles, Watson is familiar with an amputee's emotional and physical states of mind.

"People who undergo a traumatic amputation generally have a harder time dealing with it than, say, someone who has diabetes and has been in pain for a long period of time," Watson said. "If they were perfectly normal beforehand, it's more difficult, emotionally."

Watson said there's a noticeable difference between a patient who loses a lower extremity and one who loses an upper extremity, such as Stough.

"A lower extremity amputee will more than likely be more functional than an upper extremity amputee, because there's less fine motor skills a foot is used for," Watson said. "For an upper extremity amputee, there's much more day-to-day stuff you can't do."

Family affected by accident as well
Stough said coping with the loss of his limb has been difficult for the family, which includes Stough's wife, Tera, and the couple's three children.

"It's really had a bearing on the family," Stough said. Not just financially - with fuel, hotel and medical bills piling up - but emotionally, as well, he said.

"Just sitting here having my arm exposed makes me uncomfortable," he said during a recent interview. "I can't even look at myself in the mirror. It makes me break down. It's a grieving process."

Working and building things with his hands were talents in which Stough once took great pride. This year, he had hoped to finish the basement, present his daughter with a homemade playhouse for her second birthday and teach his son how to play hockey.

With one arm, those goals seem unreachable now.

"I feel like I'm half the man I once was," Stough said. "I can't fulfill the needs of my family anymore. People say it's just an arm, and yeah, it's just an arm, but it's more than just an arm to me. There's just so many things I can't do. My daughter helps me put on my coat or tie my shoes. I can't even pull myself into the truck. It's a completely different life."

Tera Stough agreed. In addition to running a home day care, she handles many of the duties the couple once shared and also fills the role of nurse for her husband.

"I sleep on a chair next to the bed so I can give him his medicine every two hours," she said, adding that she can't sleep in the couple's queen-sized bed because Stough has to prop both his stump and left arm on pillows. "I set the alarm for midnight, 2, 4 and 6. Then I'm up at 7 with the kids.

"He can't even change our baby's diapers," she said. "If she's crying in the middle of the night, he can't go over to her and pick her up."

Prosthetic arm might cost $150,000

Stough hopes a prosthetic arm will bring back some sense of normalcy. The high-tech arm Stough wants allows the body's own nerves and muscles to interface with the prosthesis, controlling and directing its movements in a manner similar to the brain's control of a natural arm, thus allowing him to open and close the prosthetic hand.

The problem is the state-of-the-art arm will cost about $150,000.

And because of its short lifespan, a new arm would have to be fitted every five to seven years.

"I can't imagine having a hook," Stough said of his plans to get a prosthetic limb. "And a rubber arm or hand does nothing for me."

The February benefit could help Stough raise enough money to buy the prosthetic he wants and pay off some medical bills.

The event will include food, music, gambling and a silent auction with items including a Black Hills Gold watch, gift certificates from various businesses, remote car starters, Canaries and Skyforce tickets and rounds of golf from area courses, among other things.

Funds also have been set up at the Brandon Wells Fargo and Home Federal banks for people to make donations.

"This whole thing started about a week ago," Stough said of the benefit.

"The Brandon community has really stepped up to the plate."

Reach Jonnie Taté Finn at 331-2320.

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